Cathedral


End of the street used in Schindler's List

End of the street used in Schindler’s List

The CANDLES Museum hosts an annual tour of Auschwitz with Holocaust Survivor Eva Kor.  This year, I am lucky enough to attend.

We left Chicago on June 20 and arrived in a rainy Kraków about 2:30 PM.  After unloading at the Radisson Blu, we headed out for a stroll around the city.  During two separate tours, we took in the Old Market Square and the Jewish quarter, but the real fun would begin today (6/22/15).

Our first stop was just outside of the Jewish area of Kazimierz.  It was named for Kazimierz the Great who welcomed the Jews and established Kraków in 1335 to be named after himself.  Kazimierz (Casimir III) himself is an interesting piece of history.  In addition to founding the Kraków Academy, he supposedly had two Jewish lovers in addition to his four wives.  Because he divorced and remarried and had all daughters, he had no legitimate heirs, causing Poland to start electing their kings.  (I didn’t even know that was possible.)

The Jews experienced a great deal of religious freedom here until 1494, when a fire destroyed a large part of Kraków.  The Jews would be blamed for it, and Jan I Olbracht would move 1400 Jews to the Bawol  district.

Oskar Schindler's House

Oskar Schindler’s House with the red flowers

Eventually, there were 78,000 Jews moved to eastern part of Poland. By the end of 1800, they could move anywhere. In Hitler’s time, Kraków became the capital of occupied Poland, which is the reason it was not destroyed. On March 3, 1941, Nazis set up a small ghetto in Kraków. They divided this area into two parts.  The first part contained workers (those who were young and fit enough to carry out hard labor.)  The second part consisted of the young, the old, and the infirm.  It is this part that will be liquidated.

Many Jews worked for Schindler, who moved his Catholics to other jobs when he realized what was going on and moved to help as many Jews as possible. He would eventually save 1,200.

Our guide also shared with us that the Nazis killed 57% of professors and 37% of doctors. 187 professors sent to Sachsenhausen and Dachau. There is also a plaque in the courtyard dedicated to 30 non-Jews executed who were executed. Our tour guide Marta’s grandfather was slotted as one of the ones to be executed but escaped his execution because he spoke perfect German. In this case, truth is definitely stranger than fiction.  He simply walked up to a guard and asked where train station was.  Because of his flawless German, the guard bought it, and he got away. His advice to Marta is “Know language of your friend and the language of your enemy.”

Isaac's Synagogue

Isaac’s Synagogue

From there, we visited the Isaac Synagogue. Legend (1001 Arabian Nights) has it that Isaac had a dream of a treasure in Prague.  He went to Prague in search of the treasure.  Eventually, he met an officer with whom he shared his dream.  Apparently, the officer had a dream of a treasure in the house of Isaac the son of Jacob.  Isaac went home and took apart his oven where he found a treasure.  He used the money to build a synagogue.  The moral of the story is something along the lines of the grass is not greener on the other side–treasure is in your own home.  During WWII, this building was used as a stable and warehouse.  Eventually, it would be an art center. Now, it’s a Chabad Lubavitch (which is cool for me since I attend Chabad at home.)

Krakow Ghetto Deportation area.  Empty Chairs Monument

Kraków Ghetto Deportation area. Empty Chairs Monument

We then went to the deportation area of the Kraków Ghetto.  The Kraków Ghetto is the smallest ghetto, while the Warsaw Ghetto is largest. Before the ghetto was established, 3,000 Jews lived in the area that would become the ghetto.  The largest amount in the ghetto was 20,000 in an 18 block area.  Because there were 68,000 Jews of Kraków killed, the Empty Chair Monument has 68 chairs to represent the 68,000 Jews executed here when ghetto was liquidated (Note:  Other places say 70 chairs.  I didn’t count.)  There are two meanings they used chairs for the monument according to our tour guide.  The first is that since Jews were often moved, they were told to bring their belongings.  Because of that, chairs, tables, and wardrobes littered the area.  The second meaning is to symbolize waiting to be exterminated, an idea reinforced by the Nazi’s who apparently made the ghetto wall in the shape of Jewish tombstones.

Dr.

Dr. Pankiewicz’s Pharmacy

Another cool story from the Bohaterow Ghetto is the story of Dr. Tadeusz Pankiewicz.  He was the only non Jewish person to operate a business inside the ghetto.  He was allowed to keep his pharmacy as a service, but I doubt the Nazi’s know just how much of a service he performed. Observing what went on with the Jews from his spot just outside the square, he decided to help the Jews.  In addition to medical care to ease the suffering, he provided tranquilizers to  help Jewish children sleep through Gestapo raids.   He also provided Jews with hair dye needed to change their appearance and help them get out of the ghetto.  Additionally, his store served as a meeting place for other resisters, and a cover for Jews trying to escape.  He truly was a remarkable man, and he has been honored by the Yad Vashem..

On our way to the Plaszow Concentration Camp, we learned that there were 9,000 working concentration camps. Originally, this camp held 2,000, but when the Bohaterow ghetto was liquidated, it swelled to 8,000. The built a gas chamber and crematorium there, but they were never used. In Schindler’s List, they made it in the construction phase because the camp was destroyed. Another inconsistency is that the camp is on the hill while Amongothe’s house is on the bottom.

Plaszow Concentration Camp Memorial

Plaszow Concentration Camp Memorial

In the Camp, there is nothing left of the original buildings. All that remains is a series of monuments.  In addition to the large one pictured here, there is a small monument to the Hungarians who perished at Auschwitz (almost half a million towards the end of the war when they came from Hungary immediately to the gas chambers) because this camp was on the way to Auschwitz. There’s also a monument to Polish policemen, many of whom were also executed.

Amongothe's House

Amongothe’s House

After exploring the area around the monuments, a number of us chose to walk down to Amongoethe’s house.  There is apparently a guard balcony in back, but it doesn’t look like sniper stand or anything you could use as such.  While I have yet to see Schindler’s List (a number of us are planning a movie night on our trip), one thing that I wanted to be sure to share is that Amongothe’s house was recently bought by an architectural firm who is planning to turn it into offices.  This may be one of the last times to see it like this.

Basilica of the Virgin Mary

Basilica of the Virgin Mary

From the camp, after lunch on our own in the city, we headed to the Basilica of the Virgin Mary.  This spot boasts the two highest towers in the city.As such, they logically became the watch tower. There also was a bugler who played different melodies to warn, assemble, or celebrate.  Legend has it that during the Tartar invasion, the man playing the warning melody was shot in throat mid-song. Because of this, a bugler will play the same melody every hour on the hour 4 times in the cardinal directions, stopping at the same spot as the man who was killed. It is an amazing sight to behold.

We then went inside to see the amazing decoration of St. Mary’s.  Built over twelve years from 1477-1489, this church has incredible splendor that is a sight to behold.  For a mere $1.33, you can take pictures inside (identified by the special photography sticker.)

Interior of St. Mary's

Interior of St. Mary’s

St. Mary’s boasts the oldest stain glass window in Poland. Additionally, the panels on the wall were considered the wordless Bible–a way to provide the uneducated with an understanding of the Bible.  This alter had been found by the Germans who sent it to northern Poland.  After the war, it would be returned.

Pope John Paul II's House

Pope John Paul II’s House

Along the way to the Wawel Royal Castle, we also saw the oldest church in Kraków.  We the saw the oldest street in Kraków where Pope John Paul II lived when he was the Bishop of Poland (in the yellow house.)

We ended our time at the Wawel Castle, built by Kazimierz (Casimir the Great) who was the last king in a 400 year dynasty.)  Our tour guide shared some incredibly interesting stories with us.  Because Kasimierz had no legitimate heir, the Polish and Hungarian kings agreed whoever died first, the other would be king of both countries. The Polish king died first.  Not wanting to leave his kingdom, the Hungarian King gained permission for his ten year old daughter to become king of Poland (Yes, not Queen..). After 200 years of the second dynasty, one of the kings ordered tapestries to be made. 138 survived because they were sent to Canada during the war, and Canada kindly returned them.  This tapestries took one man eighteen years to create or eighteen men one year. Many tapestries are on display on site.

Wawel Castle at night

Wawel Castle at night

When that dynasty ended, the king was elected by Parliament:  first French, Hungarian, then Swedish. The Swedish king moved the capital from Kraków to Warsaw to be closer to Sweden. During the war with Sweden, more Polish citizens were destroyed than during the Nazi regime.  A queen would eventually defeat them.  Surrounded by Russia, Prussia, and Austria-Hungary, it wasn’t long before they divided Poland between them starting in 1772. It became an Independent country on Nov. 11,1919. One interesting thing to see is the empty coffin of the first Bishop of Kraków who became the first Polish saint after being beheaded. (The Crusaders also occupied Poland because there were lots of pagans here, being the last non-religious country in Europe). In front of the tomb is a sculpture of a Bible with pages moving, representing the Bible with pages blowing from Pope John Paul II’s burial.  On the Sculpted Bible is a vial containing the blood of Pope John Paul II.  Other fun facts include the crowning of the royal family in front of crucifix and the fact that they were buried here until 1500. There are monuments to a number of kings inside.  Two of the castles on this site burned. This one is third. It also boasts a tournament courtyard where knights used to joust.  And, it is the biggest Renaissance castle in Europe, making its money from salt mine.

We finished our day with an incredible dinner at Hawelka, before a group of us decided to go for a walk along the river at night.  Indeed, it has been a Monumental day!

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Abbey at Tegernsee

Abbey at Tegernsee

We had decided to take it easy and pack in a leisurely fashion on our last two days. The weather was predicting clouds and rain, so we had made sure to do all of our “must sees” before that time. Anything left would be a bonus. Thursday (8/8/13) was a cloudy day, but we opted to take an afternoon drive into Tegernsee just to check it out.

Lake Tegernsee

Lake Tegernsee

We had driven past Tegernsee many times on trips to and from other places, but had never stopped. This beautiful village is on the shores of Lake Tegernsee and has an Abbey dating back to 746 (not a typo–there’s no 1 in front of that…) The Abbey and the town derive their name from old high German “tegarin seo”, meaning “large lake.” It was also one of the last stands of the SS during World War II. The SS had retreated here to defend against the American forces advancing from Bad Tölz. The Abbey was later adopted as the summer residence of the Bavarian rulers. The Abbey was closed when we were there, so we didn’t get to explore inside (if the public is even allowed in.)

Instead, we browsed around the stores selling Dirndls and Lederhosen, and just enjoyed the peace and quiet. I think this is the biggest adjustment I will have to get used to back in the states. Here, regardless of how big a crowd there is, the noise isn’t very loud. Down by the Abbey, mom commented on the crowd of people at the restaurant who were somewhat loud. Still there were about 200 of them, outside, and I’d say it was quieter than a room of 30-40 in the States.

Additionally, Tegernsee, like most of this area, has beautiful gardens and the Lake. We found a local Gelato place (Eiscafe Cristallo) for one last Gelato.

Gelataria

Gelataria

This place actually had Red Bull Gelato–no, sorry, we didn’t try it. I don’t like regular Red Bull, so I wouldn’t waste a gelato on Red Bull. I had two flavors I couldn’t identify, but looked good. One ended up being a peanut butter and chocolatey flavor, while the other which I thought was Dark chocolate, was actually dark chocolate with black licorice. I hate black licorice, but it wasn’t too bad, once you got over the “Whoa, that’s not chocolate!” response.

Traditionally dressed family

Traditionally dressed family


Finally, the inevitable–it was time to go home. Now, as I sit here, we have finished the bulk of our packing, and are finishing up our stores of food and the last minutes to prepare us to leave tomorrow. When I get home, I will have one week until school starts, and another whole slew of adventures begin. This summer has definitely been a journey–From school ending, to Russia, to Gettysburg’s 150th, to Europe, and full circle to school again.
Rainy Day in Schliersee

Rainy Day in Schliersee

I deeply appreciate those of you who have come along for the ride. The thing I think I will go home with is the blessing of getting to know the people who lived here, struggled, were creative, overcame obstacles, and brought something beautiful to the world. I may not have met them personally, but their stories have impacted mine. And that, I think, is the true meaning of leaving a legacy. So, as this journey ends, I will continue to hunt down the legacies of the men and women who have shaped the world by the light they left behind, all the while trying to shape my legacy to inspire others the way they have. Til then…

Boat to Herrenchiemsee

Boat to Herrenchiemsee

We decided to finish up with Ludwig II on Wednesday (8/7/13) by visiting his last castle at Herrenchiemsee. If you type Herrenchiemsee in Google for directions, it will tell you it is impossible to get there. This is because Herrenchiemsee is located on an Island. What you have to do is go to Prien am Chiemsee and catch a boat from there. Thankfully, the GPS will take you right to the pier.

Carriage

Carriage

We arrived, got parking (ours ended up being 3.50 Euros for the time we were there), and headed out to get the boat. The boat ticket was a little over 4 Euros per person and covers the trip to Herrenchiemsee Island, plus two other island stops. The boats tend to run approximately every half hour between 8:30 ish and 7, though the times are not exactly regular–the time tables are posted, though. We managed to time things well, and got there just in time to catch a boat over. We got our tickets for free (Still covered by the castle card we bought at Neuschwanstein) and had about a half an hour to make the 25 minute walk up to the castle. While this wasn’t the steep walk of some of the other castles, we were concerned we might not make it in time for our tour, so we opted to take the horse drawn carriage for 3 Euros each. This was actually an excellent choice, as the carriage drops you off right at the entrance to the castle.

Herrenchiemsee

Herrenchiemsee

Herrenchiemsee was designed by Ludwig to be an exact copy of Versailles. His love of all things French (specifically being an absolute monarch) is more than evident here. Once again, we were in a no camera zone, except for the unfinished parts and the basement. This castle is the last of King Ludwig II’s, and he actually only spent 10 days here, though he stopped by annually to check on the building progress. It stopped being built when the King ran out of money, and consequently was never finished. The rooms that are finished, however, are as breathtaking as one would expect from King Ludwig. One thing that interested me in this castle is that he has two bedrooms.
Bottom of the Table contraption

Bottom of the Table contraption

One is the State Bedroom–an exact copy of King Louis XIV, except King Ludwig’s is a touch bigger (that ever present quest to out-do the other guy.) King Ludwig never actually slept in this bed (no one has, to my knowledge.) Yet the curtains hanging around the bed are stitched with painted thread and took 30 women 9 years to complete. They cost more than the entire island of Herrenchiemsee! Curtains!! That kind of artistry (or extravagance) astounds me. The other bedroom is the one Ludwig actually slept in (for the 10 days he was actually at this palace.) You can tell it’s his bedroom because it’s decorated in his favorite blue instead of the red of the Versailles bedroom. Additionally, it’s interesting that there is nothing Bavarian anywhere in the castle–all of the decorations are either French or mythological. Very interesting.
Funeral mask and picture

Funeral mask and picture

One other feature of the rooms here that is the same as at Linderhof is the “magical” table, supposedly in reference to the German tale, “Little table, set thyself.” This table is made to lower into the floor and return set for meals. It is located just off the porcelain room which contains an amazing collection of porcelain pieces and a porcelain chandelier.

We concluded the tour of the finished rooms and went into the museum. Here you can see Ludwig’s funeral mask and portrait of his death. (I took this before I realized the no picture rule applied here as well. Since I have it, I might as well share 🙂 ) Additionally, you can see the cloaks Ludwig wore on special occasions of state. One of the things that was the most interesting to me was the engagement photo of Ludwig and Sophie, which you can view here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/12634458@N04/5812436315/ I love the way photographs speak about a person, and this one says volumes!

Unfinished area

Unfinished area

First, I noticed that Sophie is looking, while demurely, straight at the camera with a touch of a smile. Ludwig, on the other hand, is staring up and to his left, away from her and the camera. Additionally, their hands are interesting. I have been escorted by many men in many different situations with various degrees of attachment, but almost every man does the same thing when you take his arm: he instinctively tucks his elbow to his side, sometimes resting his hand over yours. Ludwig’s arm is stiff and away from his body with his hand clenched and facing up–almost recoiling. Obviously, this is not a comfortable pose for him. Seeing this picture, I think, is a foreshadowing that this marriage is not going to work. Perhaps knowing he breaks off the engagement makes me read into things, but I think there’s more to it than that.

1/3 of Ludwig's "bathtub"

1/3 of Ludwig’s “bathtub”

From the museum, we continued down into the unfinished part of the castle. Having seen so many finished castles, it’s amazing to see one in progress. Herrenchiemsee has chosen to fill the unfinished rooms with modern art (which I don’t have much of an appreciation for, but I suppose others do, and it’s better than 28 rooms of blank bricks.) One can only imagine what these rooms would have looked like had Ludwig had more time and money. There are three rooms (2 1/2) that are finished in the lower level. The first is the servants area where the table was raised and lowered. From there, you walk into an area that is Ludwig’s bathtub. I’d call it a swimming pool as it’s larger than most swimming pools in American back yards. Finally, you end up in Ludwig’s ornate dressing room, concluding the tour of the castle.

Fountains

Fountains

We made it out to the gardens just in time for the fountains to go off. These fountains are incredibly beautiful, so it was neat to see them with all the water gushing. We had opted to walk back down instead of taking the carriage again, so we headed down the peaceful path through the woods to the monastery.

This is the monastery where Ludwig would stay when he came to make his annual check on the progress of his castle. His room here is blue, but that’s about as much of home as he is able to retain.

Ludwig's room

Ludwig’s room

The monks apparently didn’t cater to his desires for grandeur. I wonder how they took to his sleeping schedule as well, or if he altered it for his stay here. Other than a small chapel and Ludwig’s rooms, there wasn’t much else to see at the monastery so we went down to wait for the other boat. and got to see a rainbow!

The boat took us over to Fraueninsel, another island in Chiemsee. This small village of 300 gives a beautiful view of the old palace (monastery), and has its own Benedictine convent. The convent acted as a “reform school for fallen women” until 1995, and is now a convent again.

The Imperial Abbey of Frauenchiemsee

The Imperial Abbey of Frauenchiemsee

It was amazing to stand inside and view the beauty, all the while listening to the nuns singing somewhere above you. Shades of Sound of Music. Finally, we decided it was time to head home. After figuring out which boat would take us back to our car, we headed out. It has been an adventure getting to know King Ludwig II.

House with images of the Passion Play

House with images of the Passion Play

On Tuesday (8/6/13), we headed into Oberammergau. I had asked my mom what Oberammergau was known for, and she said wood carving and painted houses (This not being a year ending in zero.) The thing Oberammergau is best known for is the Passion Play (I’m already planning a grant to be able to come back for that!). The story behind why they do the Passion play every 10 years is a neat one. It all began during the Thirty Years’ War. Overwhelmed by the Swedish army and battling the plague (the registry records over 80 deaths in the small town), the councillors promised God to perform a play depicting the Passion of Christ every 10 years
Wood carver's shop:  The big...

Wood carver’s shop: The big…

(They started with every year, then decided every 10 years would be sufficient.) if God would spare them from the plague. The epidemic stopped, and the villagers kept their vow. They gave their first performance in 1634, then 1640 and every 10 years thereafter, with additional performances to celebrate key anniversaries of the vow made. Initially, it was a small scale production on a wooden stage, but since 1830, it has been on the same stage it is performed on today. Now the play has a cast of over 2,000 and lasts for 7 hours, with a dinner break in the middle. The villagers will perform the play from May to October. Apparently, the village has added other plays to their repertoire for off years, as there were signs advertising the play Moses. Also, visitors can check out the Passion play museum.

We started out at looking at different wood carvers shops. While sculpting is an incredible skill, and one I greatly admired while in Italy, wood carving is another thing entirely. We started for Pilatushaus (most famous),

...And the small

…And the small

but it was closed for lunch, so we set out to enjoy the many other wood carvers in town. In the same way that I love sculpture and architectural detail, I love the precision of woodwork. From the gigantic carvings to the miniscule, each piece is an incredible work of art.

After grabbing our own lunch, we decided to explore The Parish church of Saints Peter and Paul. This beautiful building offers sculptures, not of marble, but of wood painted to look like marble.

Front of the Parish of Saints Peter and Paul

Front of the Parish of Saints Peter and Paul

They are amazingly beautiful. Since we have toured quite a few cathedrals in our time here, it is always interesting for me to note the different features each one has. In this cathedral, I noticed it is substantially lighter in color than a number of the other cathedrals we have seen. Additionally, the pews are carved. I would expect nothing less in a wood carving village, but it was still interesting to observe.

Next, we headed back to Pilatushaus. Pilatushaus (thus named because of the painting of Jesus before Pilate on the house) has been a living workshop since 1784.

Pilatushaus

Pilatushaus

It was almost destroyed in 1981, but by advertising what was going to happen, people rallied to save it. We got to see wood artists at work right on the premises. We also asked the shop owner about house painting. From her explanation, the name of the artists who do the painting is in English “Church painters,” as the men who plied this trade started as church painters. The same technique of fresco work is used on the buildings. Unfortunately, it seems to be a dying art (literally), as currently, there is no one living in Oberammergau who does it. She also explained to us that historic buildings have strict requirements by the government as to how they have to be maintained (much like historic buildings in America), and that it is quite expensive to do.

Initially, I thought the painted houses were not that different from the ones around our area, until we started walking around.

Red Riding Hood House

Red Riding Hood House

The house painting (Lüftlmalereien) in Oberammergau is an interesting combination of the religious (all the passion play art) and the fairy tale. We left Pilatushaus and set off to find the Little Red Riding Hood house and the Hansel and Gretel house. I had forgotten that a lot of the fairy tales we grew up with actually started as German tales. We first found the Little Red Riding Hood House. It is right across the street from the Hansel and Gretel House and next door to a house with the fairytale where the donkey carries all the other animals (I forget the name.) The artwork on these houses is incredible! Definitely a joy to see.

Views of Innsbruck

Views of Innsbruck

Oberammergau is definitely a place I want to explore more thoroughly, but today, we wanted to head into Innsbruck. I only know Innsbruck from “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning, in which the speaker discusses a sculpture which “Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me.” We wanted to have time to look around. Additionally, mom had wanted me to hear what she calls an “Oompa band” with traditional dancing. Schuhplattler is a folk dance in which men periodically leap, slap their thighs and feet, all in a rhythmic pattern. I had searched the internet to see if any would be performing near us. (Our Alpenclub staff had told us they mostly perform on weekends.) In doing so, I stumbled upon the Tyrolean Evening with the Gundolf family. The Gundolf family has been performing internationally since 1967. They perform in Innsbruck from April to October. Since the show didn’t start until 8:30, mom wasn’t sure we wanted to be driving the hour and a half drive back home after the show concluded at 10:00, but we decided to go for it. You can either purchase tickets for the show alone (29 Euro), or for dinner and a show (46 Euro). We chose to splurge and get dinner and the show. You have a choice of whether you want dinner before the show or during it. We chose before, which I am glad of, since you have to sit in the back if you get dinner during the show.

 Schuhplattler dance

Schuhplattler dance

Since we arrived before our dinner time, we chose to explore a bit around the restaurant. If you attend the show, it is actually difficult to find. We thought the GPS had misled us when it told us to turn into BP, but the restaurant is actually located behind the gas station. While the show was amazing, we found the restaurant a bit lacking in organization, though with good food. We had three courses: soup and salad, wienerschnitzel and potatoes, and apple strudel–all very traditional dishes. Though we had bought our tickets at 5:00 for the 8:30 show, we got front row seats (since there were just two of us.)

The Gundolf Family

The Gundolf Family

It was an incredible show, featuring musicians on a variety of instruments including the musical saw, the zither, the harp, and traditional brass. Additionally, we heard traditional folk songs and yodeling, and saw the traditional folk dancing and slap dance. The evening concluded with the family singing popular songs from about 20 different countries. They introduced them as the national anthems, but they were not. While most countries had people who cheered and enthusiastically applauded their songs, the American songs they chose were a bit of Yankee Doodle, blended into “Be Kind to Your Web Footed Friends,” which they sang as Lalalalalalalala instead of with words. Still, it was impressive to be able to sing so many songs in so many languages, and a neat opportunity to see who was in the crowd from which country. We were surprised that Australia had such a large representation.

Finally, the evening was over, and it was time to head home. As mom predicted, the GPS sent us home via the smallest, most curvy path through the mountain, complete with scattered showers and fog, but we made it. Definitely a full day!

Alsace

Alsace

Knowing how close we were to the French border, mom had wanted to take the opportunity for me to add another country to the list of ones I’ve visited (now 21…). Then, as we were talking to our relatives, Joerg shared the difficult history Alsace has had since Germany and France had traded parts of the territory 4 times in 75 years (19th and 20th century). All I had previously known about Alsace (or Alsace-Lorraine) is the short paragraph on the WWII timeline that stated that Hitler had asked for the region and gotten it. Since Alsace is about 45 minutes from here, we decided to go there to “be in France.”

St. Martin's Collegiate Church

St. Martin’s Collegiate Church

So this morning (8/1/13), we headed across the border. Normally, you need a sticker for France too, but our hostess assured us we would be fine without one. We navigated the perils of parking (free for three hours) and headed into Alsace. After picking up information at the Tourist Information Center (and finding out we could have attended a traditional Soiree, complete with traditional costumes and dancing–but on Tuesday evenings…Alas.), we made our way towards the museum. But, we ended up passing some amazing sites along the way, and consequently never made it to the museum.

Last Supper St. Martin's

Last Supper St. Martin’s

Alsace has an amazingly well-preserved old city, and it is great fun to just walk around and look at the old buildings. There are also a number of Cathedrals in the area. We chose to explore St. Martin’s Collegiate Church. This impressive building was built between 1235 and 1365 (according to the architect’s plans), though in the 1982 restoration, they were able to find remains of a church dating back to 1000. Additionally, this is a church, not a cathedral. Apparently, it was never the seat of a bishop, but was governed by a board of clerics. It did, however, become a cathedral for ten years during the French Revolution, but otherwise, it’s a church. This exquisitely ornate building has a beautiful portrayal of the Last Supper in one of its chapels.

Lunch

Lunch

From St. Martin’s, we took a walking break to enjoy some French Quiche and some chocolate cake, to see if French pastries really stacked up to their Swiss counterparts. While we didn’t see anything as delectable as our Swiss rolls, both items were good. We have noticed that European cakes are drier than we make them in America. Nothing of the gooey goodness we’re used to from cakes and brownies, but still good. This particular cake had a layer of cake, a layer of cookie (that was interesting), another layer of cake, a layer of mousse, a final layer of cake and a coating of chocolate. Definitely good, but I still miss the gooey chocolate from home.

Synagogue Colmar

Synagogue Colmar

Refreshed and rejuvenated, we set out to find Little Venice. We initially headed in the wrong direction, which I usually don’t mind as it affords me some otherwise missed shots. In this case it brought me in view of a Synagogue. Loving Jewish culture as I do, I had to go check it out. While I couldn’t go inside, what most interested me was a plaque on the front of the gate. This plaque, while in French, contains enough Latin based words for me to decipher the meaning. It is an homage by the French government to the Jewish community for the persecution that came from racism and anti-Semitism during World War II. Though reading the amount of persecution Jews in the area experienced, a plaque is a shallow gesture. Jews were banished numerous times from the city, yet still defended it when invaders came. They were blamed for tyrants’ take-overs and the Black Death. They were burned outside the city, and traders were forced to pay a toll and wear yellow badges in 1512 (foreshadowing of WWII).
plaque from the French Government

Placque from the French Government

Interestingly, “Good King Wenceslaus” allowed banished Jews back in the city, where they lived peacefully for about a decade before his disagreements with them caused them to bear the tax burden for the fortress. One other piece on information I found online is that St. Martin’s actually has two sculptures on the church which are Judensau–a type of anti-Semitic artwork putting Jews in contact with pigs. Incredible that a church could justify carving this type of “artwork” on their building.

Gondola ride "Little Venice"

Gondola ride “Little Venice”

We eventually located Little Venice. This little area is located by the fishmongers’ district, which reminds me of Hamlet in which calling someone a fishmonger was an insult. The area where the Lauch runs through Colmar was nicknamed “Little Venice” because the houses there are right along the bank and accessible by water. Either way, it’s a quaint little area, far less crowded than the real Venice, and you can still catch a gondola and get a history of the city.

Finally, our three hours were drawing to a close, so we did not have time for the museum. I had learned from the tourist office that Voltaire’s house was in town. Having read Candide in college, I was interested to see where the writer had lived. We followed the map up to his house and found an rather forlorn looking building compared to the rest of the old city.

Voltaire's House

Voltaire’s House

One interesting fact is that the house is located on the Jewish street in the city (Judengasse). Voltaire came to Colmar in 1753 to work on his “Annales de l’Empire” (Annals of the Empire), which I am not remotely familiar with. He boarded in this house with the Mayor’s wife (interesting phraseology in the documentation…) for three months and, despite criticizing it as half French, half-German, appeared to have a good time. He did have some difficulties with the Jesuit brothers who were against his writing–Having read Candide, I might agree.

Vineyards outside our flat

Vineyards outside our flat

We retrieved our car and returned home to pack and prepare to head out early tomorrow. We took one last stroll around our beautiful lodgings to get pictures of the vineyards in the fading light of the sun. Tomorrow we head to another region to go castle-looking. More fun to follow!

Parking at Piazzale Michelangelo

Parking at Piazzale Michelangelo

Today (7/26/13) was our last time to park in Piazzale Michelangelo, and I can’t honestly say I’m going to miss the experience. Italian parking has tested my Driver’s Ed skills beyond what I thought possible. But, we have discovered that if you arrive around 9:00 A.M., you can usually find a parking space where you should be able to pull straight out. I wish a photo could capture the tight spaces we had to get in and out of (all the while with three different cars trying to go three different directions around you–Craziness!) So, we got settled and went to wait for a bus that would take us to another bus to get us near Casa Buonarroti. (Mom has declared Florence a “Tourist unfriendly” city.)

Yellow House = Michelangelo's

Grey house right of Yellow house = Michelangelo’s

So, two busses and a couple of blocks later, we arrived at a rather unimpressive facade to have housed one of the most famous artists of all time. But, while the outside is rather unimpressive, the inside is neat to see. A grand-nephew Michelangelo’s, known as Michelangelo the younger, did a great deal of work in restoring the house and gaining a collection of Michelangelo’s work–some of which he had to purchase at great expense from the Roman market. Here you may see lesser known works of Michelangelo’s like The Madonna of the Stairs (usually–we saw a bronze cast as the original was on loan to Japan for their Culture of Italy celebration.), the Battle of the Centaurs, a photo of the Crucifix that we missed seeing in Santo Spirito, and plans and models for the facade of the church of San Lorenzo. In point of fact, there are not many sketches of Michelangelo’s left, since the artist himself destroyed many of them to keep people from knowing how much work went into his image of perfection (He even had the nickname Michelangelo il divino–Michelangelo the Divine). This is, however, another “No Photo” Zone, but you can check out some of the collection here: http://www.museumsinflorence.com/musei/Michelangelo_house.html

Santa Maria Novella Front

Santa Maria Novella Front

After leaving Casa Buonarroti, we headed (via a circuitous route) to Santa Maria Novella. We’ve discovered that the Firenze Card App for the I-phone is an amazing treasure. It not only gives you information about the sites you can see with the Firenze card, but also gives you a map of the location with a little moving blue dot indicating where you are. This helped us know when we were close, or in the case of Santa Maria Novella, when we got off at the WAY wrong stop. (Note: Novella and Nuovo are not the same thing. And there are a lot of Santa Maria’s in Florence.)

Side view of Santa Maria Novella

Side view of Santa Maria Novella

We made it with a half an hour to spare before our Firenze card ran out (Alas, only 13 of the 84 sites viewed…). The church itself has an amazing collection of art and frescos (like most of the Cathedrals around Florence.) It is not as elaborate as some of the churches here, but has a number of cool frescos behind the elaborate altar. The museum holds many of the vestments of various priests including St. Thomas of Canterbury’s. Otherwise, it’s a fairly small museum.

Finally, our card had run out, and it was time to head home. We stopped by our favorite gelato shop, Porta Romana, and headed up to pack. We’re off to Germany via Switzerland early tomorrow. The other 61 sites will have to wait for another time. We had tried to find where Museo di casa Guidi was but could not locate anything on Google or the maps. This is supposed to be the Florence home of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and as an English major and admirer of her work, I would have loved to see it, but we weren’t able to. Nor did we have time for Dante’s house or the Galileo Museum. But, that saves some special things for another time.

David Replica at Palazzo Vecchio

David Replica at Palazzo Vecchio

Today (7/24/13), we set off for the Accademia to hang out with the David. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take pictures anywhere in the Accademia, so I have included a picture of David (the replica) in the spot where the original David stood. The original David was designed to go on top of the Duomo. This explains why his head is larger than it should be for his body. Michelangelo was designing it to be viewed by people on the street from its perch atop the Duomo. But, instead it was placed in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. It remained there until 1873 when weather damage posed a threat, and it was moved to the Accademia. Words cannot express how amazing it is to be in the same room with this amazing 14 foot tall piece of sculpture. It truly is awe-inspiring. To see marble veins in the hands, the look of concentration on his face as he contemplates Goliath, and yet his easy confidence–it’s an incredible experience. What struck me most is that Michelangelo always worked freehand. Most sculptures of the time sketched out their works on the marble, indicating where they wanted to chisel. Michelangelo believed he was working for the glory of God and would wait until he felt the inspiration for a piece, then work feverishly for days. As he stated, “Many believe – and I believe – that I have been designated for this work by God. In spite of my old age, I do not want to give it up; I work out of love for God and I put all my hope in Him.” When carving, he started with the torso and worked proportionally from there, moving from front to back, which caused another artist to describe watching him work like “seeing a figure emerge from the surface of the water.”

Memorial to Lorenzo Bartolini at Santa Croce

Memorial to Lorenzo Bartolini at Santa Croce

Though the David is colossal and impressive, it is not the only impressive work in the Accademia. The Rape (Abduction) of the Sabine Women by Giambologna was in restoration, so we weren’t able to see this one. But, as you walk towards the area which houses the David, you walk alongside a number of other Michelangelo sculptures, affectionately named “The Prisoners.” These are unfinished works of Michelangelo, called prisoners because they have not yet been freed from the marble blocks. They are incredible in their own right, as they show the transition from marble to finished stature. At the end of the line of prisoners is another Pieta, attributed to Michelangelo, but not necessarily his.

Another area of the Accademia is devoted to the plaster work done as a model for sculpture. A number of artists made plaster versions of their work, measured the dimensions, then transferred it to marble. One big surprise I had is that a number of the plaster sculptures were attributed to the artist Lorenzo Bartolini, a name fans of Letters to Juliet will immediately recognize. This Lorenzo Bartolini became a famous portrait sculptor after painting Napoleon Bonaparte and his family. The busts of a number of important people are modeled here.

Cappelle Medicee

Cappelle Medicee

From the Accademia, we headed to Cappelle Medicee. This incredible chapel was designed by Michelangelo, and he has a number of statues there as well, most adorning the sarcophagi of the Duke of Nemours and his nephew. Each tomb has the interred (the Duke or his nephew) arrayed like a Roman captain, while underneath lounge a male and female figure representing day and night. The chapel also housed some amazing reliquaries.

Sepulchre of Michelangelo

Sepulchre of Michelangelo

After the Cappelle Medicee, we tried to go to the Pallazzo Medici Riccardi, but it was closed. (Each of the museums has different days it is closed, as well as hours it closes early.) So, we headed to Santa Croce. (This is another “cover up zone.”) This cathedral is rather plain on the interior, but contains memorials and the sepulchres of some amazing men: Galileo, Michelangelo, Dante, Machiavelli, and Lorenzo Bartolini to name a few. It is incredible to walk around the chapel and see these amazing designs. From the chapel, you can look into a number of side areas containing original frescos. Another room holds reliquaries, including part of the frock of St. Francis of Assisi. From the museum, you go into a central courtyard area where you can see another museum or choose to go to the hall of sepulchres. It is fascinating to see the way people were interred at this time.

Finally, we headed home to rest a bit before picking up the car at Piazzale Michelangelo. When we had left the car, I was in the first spot so I could just pull out to leave. When we returned, four other cars had created their own parking spaces around me. Sigh…So much for easy parking.

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